Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 20, 2012


The Maracot Deep and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle (1929)

Conan Doyle, of course is hardly forgotten, nor is most of his fiction, from his historical novels to his stories of Brigadier Gerard and about Professor Challenger to his classic tales of Sherlock Holmes.  And, truth to tell, this collection should hardly be considered forgotten -- except for one reason.  More on that later.

     The Maracot Deep, the title novel of this collection, was one of Doyle's last novels.  The Dr. Maracot of the title is a scientist who devised a bathysphere that can go deeper into the ocean than ever before.  Using it descend into a large ocean rift, the machine gets into trouble and Maracot and his crew are rescued by the last Atlanteans, whose forebears survived the sinking of Atlantis 8000 years ago and were able to make a new home undersea.  Of course there are scientific marvels.  And scary beasts. And, because this was written late in the author's life, when he believed in spiritualism, there is a bit of that thrown in when Maracot meets the "Lord of the Dark Face."  All-in-all, this is a pretty engaging fantasy that covers a lot of ground in 189 pages.

     The second and fourth stories in the collection are about Professor George Edward Challenger, the strong-minded protagonist of Doyle's The Lost World and The Poison Belt, who became a shadow of himself when Doyle had the abrasive man turn to spiritualism in The Land of Mist.  "The Disintegration Machine" and "When the World Screamed" deal with a dangerous new machine and the theory that the earth is a living creature moving through space, respectively.  Both are well worth your time.

    Ah, but the third piece in this four-story collection...That's what makes this a truly forgotten book as well as a truly "What the heck were they thinking?" book.  "The Story of Spedegue's Dropper" seems to be very rare (to me, at least; I have not been able to locate it anywhere else).  This is a story about cricket, the English sport leaves me dazed and confused and scatching my head in disbelief.  I understand that a lot of people love the game, follow it religiously, and can even understand what it's all about.  I'm not one of them.  And what the hell is a story about cricket doing in what is essentially a science fiction collection?

     I'll be honest and say that I have read and enjoyed stories about cricket before, but all of those were written by P. G. Wodehouse in his early boy's novels and were written so that I could at least get a glimpse of what the game is about.  But here, alas, is Doyle:

     ...He bowled with splendid vim and courage, but his analysis at the end of the day only showed three wickets for a hundred and forty-two.  Storr, the googlie merchant, had a better showing with four for ninety-six.  Cade's mediums accounted for two wickets, and Moir, the english captain, was run out.  He had made seventy-three first, and Peters, Grieve, and Hanwell raked up sixty-four, fifty-seven, and fifty-one respectively, while nearly everyone was in double figures.  The only exception was "Thomas E. Spedegue, Esq.," to quote the score card, which recorded a blank after his name.


     And there's this:

     ...A fielder was placed on the boundary in line with the stumps, then the versatile Morland proceeded to elaborate those fine tips to slip and tips to fine leg which are admitted now to be the only proper treatment for the dropper.  At the same time Whitelaw took a pace back so as to be level with his wicket and topped the droppers down to the off so that Spedegue had to bring two of his legs across and so disarrange his whole plan of campaign.  The pair put on a ninety for the fifth wicket, and when Whitelaw at last got out, bowled by Hanwell, the score stood at one hundred and thirty.

     And some wonder why England lost her empire.

     Anyway, the story is about an asthmatic, run-of-the-mill, amateur cricket player who develops a new and startling way of delivering the ball and leads England to victory in the Test Match.

     Good luck finding this book.  I managed to borrow the copy I read from the Naval Academy Library in Annapolis.


  1. I'm a fan of Conan Doyle. I'll try to locate a copy of this book. If you haven't read it, I high recommend Michael Dirda's just published ON CONAN DOYLE.

  2. I'm on the waiting list for the Dirda book at the library, George.

    The inclusion of "Spedegue's Dropper" in this volume really threw me for a loop, but perhaps it shouldn't have. In his collection DANGER! AND OTHER STORIES, Doyle (or his publisher) added "Three of Them" a four-part story Doyle evidently wrote for his children and one that certainly did not fit in with theme of that book.

  3. Ah, well...if Michael Shaara dropped FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME into an otherwise sf collection, I doubt I'd get too upset (though the argot wouldn't be as alien)...consider Walter Tevis and Kurt Vonnegut's collections...or, say, straightforward historical fiction in Poul Anderson collections...